Opportunity, especially for potential profit or personal gain, is seldom recognized for what it is. Most of the time when opportunity knocks we are out to lunch, are to busy working to make money, or are to busy looking for change under the couch cushion to answer the door when the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes comes to call.
It was my dad who first introduced me to the delights of missed opportunity. It was the summer of 1976, our elderly neighbor was moving to Florida, and he was selling the deep, bottle green, 1939 Lincoln Zephyr convertible coupe, with original V-12 engine, that he had purchased new.
The paint was a bit thin on the top of the fenders but the car had been garaged and meticulously maintained from day one. The asking price, $225.00. I had in my possession two one hundred dollar bills.
So, for the first and last time, I asked dad for a small loan. The response was, “You don’t want a problem child like that. Give me your $200.00 and I will get you a good car.” That is how I became the proud owner of a 1964 Rambler American station wagon.
Within a couple of years I was ready to miss opportunity without assistance. To prove it, I declined a partnership in a land deal.
My boss, for reasons unknown, took a shine to me and provided me with a wide array of opportunities at the company. Then came the day he called me into the office and said, “Jim, your a good man and I want to give you a hand up. I am buying ten, one acre parcels along the Colorado River south of Bullhead City. You can have one with no money down, we will take payments from your check.”
Now, who in their right mind would want property on the Colorado River near Bullhead City, often the hottest place in the nation? Even crazier was the fact that the property being purchased required a four-wheel drive vehicle to access.
So, I respectively declined the offer of one acre, on the river, with no money down, no interest, and a total cost of $10,000. Fast forward 15 years.
The brother of my boss at that time purchased a quarter acre on the river in a newly developed area along the river for the “bargain” amount of $250,000. Guess who owned that property? My former boss.
As vintage vehicles have been front and center during most of my adult life it was in this realm that I became quite adept at avoiding opportunity. In time I even transformed it into an art form.
The list of missed automotive opportunities is a lengthy one. However, these are a few of my very favorites.
In late 1977, I was in need of transportation. With just over $200.00 in the budget the choices were narrowed to two vehicles; a battered 1942 Chevy truck and a one owner, garage kept 1964 Lincoln, four door, convertible that needed a water pump. I purchased the truck.
There was the summer that I was helping a friend scout for parts to get his 1936 Hudson back on the road. We were following a lead on some parts cars at an alfalfa farm in the Mohave Valley that turned out to be a mere rumor.
However, we did find a nice, complete, non running, 1957 Buick station wagon with an asking price of $100.00. I have always liked station wagons but no else seemed to. Besides I had a car and a truck, didn’t need a project, and really didn’t want to hassle with moving from it the barn and then hauling it home.
Well, as it turned out the wagon was a bit of rarity as it was a four-door hardtop, with factory air conditioning, and the J-2 package. I learned all of that later when another friend purchased it. I also learned the manifold, carbs, and air cleaner for the J-2 package were worth somewhere around $1,000.00
I suppose it would be possible to deny responsibility for missing the Studebaker opportunity. However, that would be, at best, a half truth.
A friend and I were out cruising south of Bouse, Arizona when we met a fellow with a yard full of old cars. As I was a rust addict we had to stop.
Well, he had a 1950 Studebaker coupe, the bullet nose model, for sale. The price, $50.00, as it had no motor or transmission. However, for an additional $250.00 he would throw in a rebuilt motor and transmission as well as a new clutch.
Now, I have always liked these cars but just didn’t have the money for the paint and upholstery needed. Let alone the brake work, the wiring, and other items that would be needed if I did most of the work myself. I took a pass.
Seven short days later, just one week, I ran across a 1950 Studebaker convertible. It had a new top, a good repaint and decent interior. It also had a blown motor and bad clutch. The asking price, $500.00.
Now, as I had abandoned common sense and tossed the phone number for the Studebaker owner near Bouse, the only option was to drive there. It was here that luck intervened in the story.
A scheduling change at the mine meant I would not have a day off for two weeks instead of the two days planned for. Suffice to say, opportunity lost.
For reasons unknown, I always seemed to do better in regards to horse trading.  I never really made a great deal of money in these endeavors but at least there was the illusion of profit.
I once traded a starter and generator from a 1950 Plymouth for four good, 16.5 tires. In turn, I traded these for two truck loads of NOS (new old stock) Chrysler parts. These were traded to a car dealer who was rebuilding an early De Soto for use of a rental car for one week and $200.00. That is how we managed our honeymoon to Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Then there was the time I traded a ten speed bicycle for a Winchester rifle. The I traded the rifle and another bicycle for a 1965 Pontiac. The Pontiac was traded for a 1956 Ford F100. As it turned out the Pontiac, a rare 2+ 2 model, is now a very high dollar vehicle if one can be found.
One time I took a very battered 1970 Ford F100 as payment on an outstanding debt. This was traded for an equally rough 1968 Cadillac convertible. After a bit of tinkering I was able to trade that for a china hutch my dearest friend had her eye on.
When I reflect on opportunity lost, and some of the odd things that have been traded for other odd things, I am reminded of the joke about the $50,000 dog.
See, this fellow had a dog he thought was absolutely priceless even though it was a mangy old cur. Well, he got married and fell on to some hard times about a year or so into the relationship.
Every time his wife complained about money she noted that if the dog was really that valuable, he should sell it. After a few months of this he snapped.
He grabbed that old mutt by the stump of the tail and the scruff of the neck, and tossed him in the truck. Before heading for town he told his wife he would sell the dog just to prove her wrong.
Late that afternoon he came rolling down the driveway with a big ear to ear grin on his face. His wife could only assume the look meant he had actually sold that dog. Imagine her surprise when he informed her that in fact he had not sold his $50,000 dog but instead had traded it for two $30,000 cats.
That my friend is at the very core of horse trading and opportunity. Often the profit made or lost is simply a matter of perspective.